Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/A sudden rise


I think, Molly,” said my father, rolling his cigar to the corner of his mouth, “I think, Molly, Bob’s growing.”

My mother looked up from her needlework, flushed and startled; pushed her spectacles halfway up her forehead, which she did when she wanted to see anything; and moving a candle to the edge of the table, fixed her eyes straight upon me with a frown of extreme tenderness and searching inquiry.

“Stand up, Bob,” said my father, encouragingly; as if there was a way of standing up which would make a person permanently taller.

I stood up with a dogged feeling that as to height it was almost indifferent whether I sat or stood.

My father contemplated me for a full minute, during all which time he inhaled a long draught of tobacco smoke. At the end of that breathless period he emitted a remarkable cloud, which for the time blotted out me, the candles, my mother, and, in fact, the universe.

At the age of seventeen, I differed in all respects from a mathematical right line, which has length without breadth or other dimensions. I possessed breadth and dimensions without length,—at least any to speak of.

The colloquial name given me by my intimates at school was “Sausage.” I often pondered upon its possible apposition to myself: for I saw many pounds of that favourite edible quite attenuated, and of a delicate figure, the thickness bearing an inconsiderable proportion to length. At the University the mystery became solved, and several college breakfasts explained to me that a cooked sausage was intended. By the frying process, sausages contract in length, and become puffy, apoplectically stout, and afflicted with rupture. My speculations decided on that point, took a new turn, and sought the connection which subsists between pork sausages and high mathematical honours. But this is obiter of the present relation.

When the world and I again hove into sight, my father rather unceremoniously pulled me towards him by the band of my trousers, and looked analytically at the interval of white stocking between their extremities and my high-lows. He then gently pushed me away, rolled his cigar to the other corner of his mouth, and placed his hand in such sort over his tumbler of whisky and water, that the spoon came out between the third and fourth fingers, and a drinking place was left betwixt the first and the thumb. With an air which blended satisfaction at the survey he had just made, and expectation of the sip that was to be, he repeated more authoritatively:

“Molly! Bob’s grown,—a good quarter of an inch!”

This was too much for my poor mother. She burst into tears; and wiping them away with the duster she was hemming, threw her arms round my neck, and sobbed on one of my shoulders. My father sipped his whisky and water, as if nothing had happened.

In truth, my height at that time was no laughing matter. I stood five feet nothing in my socks. In figure I was robust—fat. My appetite was not bad: I was nourished by what I ate, and I grew,—but always latitudinally. There was great danger of my figure becoming an oblate spheroid if that kind of growth continued. In a year or two I was to enter the university. Was the sausage martyrdom I had suffered at school to follow me to college? I was designed for the church; but a very bad design I must have been pronounced at that period. In the pulpit I should have presented the appearance of a small egg in a large egg-cup.

The fact of my growth was, however, mentally admitted, and my mother tried to go on with her hemming, but couldn’t for looking at me. When a great happiness has been received, we recall it from time to time, to make sure we are not deceiving ourselves,—that it is not a dream.

“Humphrey,” at last, said my mother, “I’ll write to Julia.”

“Do, Molly:” assented my father, rolling out a volume of smoke, which this time only obscured Asia, Africa, and America. “Molly, write to the Honourable Mrs. Cackle.”

The elevated personage alluded to, was always spoken of in our house as my aunt. I have never been able to clear up that relationship. Also, as long as I can remember, there was an expectation that she would call upon us; but up to the time of writing this memoir that visit has not come off. Keeping up some tradition of affectionate familiarity, my mother always named this great person “Julia;” whilst my father invariably persevered in her full length name and title. With him she was the Honourable Mrs. Cackle. To me she has ever been an unsolved myth.

Of the trio in our front parlour, I was the person least elevated by my own growth. Either the news was too good to be true, or I had habituated myself to the painful idea of a long life of shortness and sausageism. At any rate my heart didn’t leap up as it ought to have done when it beheld that rainbow in the sky. When you are thoroughly in for a good fit of depression and bad spirits, relief when it first comes is spurned as an impertinence. You would not, for the world, be gay. Besides, my elongation might be only apparent; due, not to my growth, but to the shrinking of my trousers, for I had been standing fishing in the morning, with the water over my ankles.

The letter to Julia was written the next morning, however, and sent. I never saw the answer, though one must have been received, as several evenings afterwards, my father, having blotted out Greece and Turkey in Europe, said reflectively to my mother:

“That was a very thoughtful letter, Molly, from the Honourable Mrs. Cackle.”

My mother replied:

“His Aunt always writes feelingly.”

Another fortnight convinced even my scepticism as to my growth. Certain buttons and button-holes would not come-to: and this quite independent of fishing and other shrinkages. The first time afterwards at school that I was called “Sausage,” I smiled derisively at the inapplicability of the term. Do sausages grow? Reductio ad absurdum.

Within a month the insufficiency of my clothing in length was so apparent, that it struck my father whilst at breakfast. When my father was not smoking, he was usually whistling “The Soldier Tired.” He whistled that air now, as he marked the hiatus between my waistcoat and my trousers; and having given the flourish at “war’s alarms,” he said: “Bob, you must go to the tailor’s and order some new clothes.” He then went on with his third cup of tea and his “Times.”

I accordingly visited the family tailor, when the following conversation took place; a conversation carried on by one speaker.

“You’re decided grown, Master Bob; you are, really, Mister Robert, grown remarkable. Mr. Bones, be so good as to take down. You’re shooting up rapid. Hextend your harm, sir, if you please. Twenty-eight one quarter, Mr. Bones. Now, sir, hinflate your breath, so as to fill the ’ole buzzum with hair; thirty-three, three, Mr. Bones. I’ll take that measure again. It’s quite remarkable. Have you that figure, Mr. Bones? Now, sir, stand heasy, with the ’ip free; thirty half, Mr. Bones. Will you have the border to the trousers neat, or a swelled seam? Why, sir, you’re taking your trousers three-eighths longer than last measure. I’ll leave something for letting out, you’re growing so rapid. Vests are wore a shade shorter, so is tails. Silk facings, sir? Well, I’m very much astonished. Friday evening, sir, without fail, Mr. Robert. Forty-two one quarter. Shall I send by carrier, or per Parcels Delivery? Thank you, Mr. Bones, that’ll do.”

All that my tailor said was quite true. I was growing, and faster than he reckoned upon. Within three months I had outgrown trousers, vest, and coat, and I looked like a crab beginning to change its shell, with the sutures parting in all directions. In fact I was elongating at the rate of an inch in six weeks, an inconvenient rate of increase as far as clothing was concerned; and not to be carried on without great demands upon the stomach. I ate, drank, and slept in a prodigious manner; but, at first, my altering height was so gratifying to my parents, that they would, I think, have cheerfully paid their butcher’s bill, if I had consumed a sheep a-day. “Growing boys want a good deal of keeping up,” my father would remark, as Japan and the Aleutian Archipelago slowly loomed back into view from smoky obscurity. “Growing boys require a good deal of lying down,” my mother would suggest, at the end of a hem of her duster.

In all ways I found myself much considered. “Aide toi,” &c., says the French proverb; and just in proportion as I grew bigger, I was the more made of. On the first day of the year it was the custom in our family for all the children to be measured. Our heights, and dates, and names, were recorded in lead pencil on the moulding of the door of what was called my father’s den. Latterly I had walked up to that moulding with a heavy sigh, as if I were going to a mitigated form of execution. This time I approached it triumphantly; and after careful verifying, the measure showed an addition of six inches over the last scratch. As I continued to shoot up the subject of my growth became quite a matter of conversation in our little neighbourhood. It gave rise to many witticisms. “Ill weeds grow apace, eh, Mr. Robert?” That was our medical man’s bon mot; and by the law of association, he never met me, saw me, or heard of me without mechanically uttering the same aphorism with the same emphasis, and the same good-tempered look, and apparently with the same erroneous idea that he emitted the pleasantry for the first time. I got to have quite a loathing at the words, not-complimentary in themselves, and only saved from being offensive by the intimacy of the person employing them, and the certainty that they were intended to be received in a flattering sense. Indeed, I heard so much and so constantly about my growth; I saw such surprise depicted on the faces of friends who had seen me only a few months before, that I was weary and almost sick of the subject, and almost wished myself back in my original unnoticed stumpiness. But time ran on, and I ran on with time. I saw the world from a different point of view, at a new level. I could look over my mother’s head, and on to shelves which before required me to mount a chair to see. I could take down books without using a ladder, and could conveniently pick cherries from standards by craning up on tip toes.

It happened by an unfortunate coincidence, that whilst I continued to rise, consols drooped, and persisted in looking down. My father was at that time a Bull, and became disturbed accordingly. A good-natured man in the main, but irritable under vexations; and when anxious he was also petulant; and in that state of mind, he always expected my mother (that gentle-hearted mender of stockings and hemmer of dusters) to do every disagreeable act, see all disagreeable people, and perform impossibilities.

There had been some bad news about Tahiti or Owhyhee. The Minister from Venezuela to the former island, had absented himself from a semi-official entertainment given by the Minister of Foreign Relations; and people on the Stock Exchange looked grave, and it was said in Hercules Passage that the conspicuous absence of the Venezuelan Minister had “a certain political significance,” and would possibly lead “to grave dynastic complications.” The instant Consols heard this rumour, they got timid; and sank, sank, sank, about the same as if London had been on fire, or the Dutch were reported to be marching on Paris.

On the morning in question, I being by last measurement six feet one inch and a half in height, we had had a gloomy breakfast. Then the newspaper came and was read in silence. My father made the tea, and both my mother and myself waited in vain for a second cup, and did not dare to ask for it. Whilst my father was still staring at “City Intelligence,” and Reuters Telegrams, a look passed between my mother and myself, which said plainly:

“News comes worse from Owhyhee. Perhaps the Venezuelan Minister at Tahiti has demanded his passports.”

Ah! those domestic pauses are often very sad; often forebode bad weather in a house. My mother fell gently into a review of her past life, and tried to recall some circumstance in which she had failed to do her duty, or in which she might have acted better. But her conscience, even when invited to accusations, could find no greater dereliction than in her having once mislaid and lost a duster which she had half hemmed. For myself, I was thinking how jolly everything seemed when I was short. And as I mused, I worked up a bit of bread crumb into a ball, tighter and tighter; and screwed it round in the palm of my hand harder and harder, till my unconscious animation woke the paternal observation. Consols were indeed again down,—an eighth lower. That fall had made the world dark for my father. Throwing down the paper with a stern look at my mother, as if it had been her duty to prop up the public funds, and she had neglected to do so; he said “Mary!”—it was always a bad sign when he called her by that name,—“Mary, that boy of yours continues to grow. You’ll have to put a atop to that I can tell you!” My poor mother cast a beseeching look towards me. I felt it, and made myself as short as I could. My father then strode out of the room, and I regret to add that we who were left, spent a few minutes in sobbing.

But not even paternal severity, or political fracas in Tahiti, had any effect in stopping my growth. Grow I must, and grow I did. When the New Year came round, came with it the measuring process. Again, with dejection, I approached the fatal door of my father’s den, whilst he, with severe determination (Consols were still sensitive, though the Venezuelan Minister had returned to his post), stood on a chair, which my mother steadied with both hands, and recorded my height at six feet four inches. A few friends came in the evening, but nothing could get up our spirits. I knew that my black trousers were fearfully short, and I could not move my arms,—because it was only by one attitude that I could keep my coat cuffs from riding up to my elbows. My father’s glance at me that night was at an angle of forty-five degrees, and was one of contempt mingled with indignation. My mother had to go upstairs twice whilst we were dancing, and have a good cry.

That was last Christmas. What is to be the end of it all, I really don’t know. I am writing from my attics in an Oxford College, where I have matriculated—happy that I had not to patriculate. I write home regularly every fortnight; and if I innocently convey the impression in my letter, that I am, if anything, a trifle shorter than I used to be, it is an excusable deception of mine, hardly to be named a fault: but I cannot conceal the fact that I have grown half an inch in the six weeks I have been up, which time will reveal to my parents, to whom I must shortly return, for the Long is approaching. I am hardened now to all the tenth-rate jokes repeated for the tenth time about the “extreme high church,” and the like. What I suffer more from is perpetual headache, for my garret is low, and I strike my head at least once a day against a beam which crosses it. Mr. Editor, I appeal to you! Do you, from your own experience or otherwise, know of any infallible remedy for growth? Has Holloway advertised any case of an extraordinary cure of tallness by the use of his ointment or his pills? Would it do me any good to go to Malvern and be rubbed, or are there any baths in Germany which have a shrinking effect on the human body? I am as thin as a lath. If you can give any help, you will shed a ray of light at 73, Prospect Place, and confer a lasting obligation upon a constant reader. If from my great elevation I cannot avoid at times overlooking my friends, I, at least, never fail to look over your pages.